Unlike all other meetings this year managed to go for a test at Knockhill prior to the event. I was going to do a track day on Tuesday and therefore I was to leave Monday night to be there for Tuesday morning. Unfortunately, just before I left for Knockhill, I was told some awful news. Ben Gautrey, one of my best friends from the MSA Academy had died in a tragic motorcycle accident at Cadwell Park whilst competing in the Metzeler British Superstock 600 race that day. This news was totally unexpected and came as a great shock. This is the first time that I have really had to deal with the death of one of my friends so made setting off on Monday night difficult. Before I write the rest of the blog I would like to say that Ben was a great friend from whom I have learned an awful lot, not only in the time I knew him at the MSA Academy but also from his death. He was fun to be around and was very likeable. He always made us all laugh but had some very clever ideas too.
I had to move on quickly and soon after the news Tuesday started and so did the track day. Knockhill is a very tight and technical track that requires a lot of skill. Each corner has a huge amount of character as it has camber, is up hill or downhill or tightens on the exit or is blind and in one case is a slight jump. A track day at the circuit would be beneficial and advantageous to my performance the following weekend. The track had also changed since last year with the addition of some 'sausage' kerbs to stop people straight lining corners.
The track day started well as I gradually increased my speed and was quick early on. We made constant modifications to the cars set-up and felt quicker and were fast as a result. I also had a passenger ride with a local legend racer which taught me a lot about the first series of corners. By the end of the day I was about one second of the pace I needed for the BTCC weekend.
I then stayed up at the circuit all week with my best friend and mechanic Rich. We had a welcome visit from Robert Reid from the MSA to help me with the loss of Ben. I got the awning sorted out and the car prepped during the week whilst my Dad was back at work as well as watching the other cars testing on Wednesday.
Friday testing was in an unusual format as we had three twenty minute session in comparison to two thirty minute sessions. The first session was damp and the new wet tyre for 2011 is still fairly new to me. I learned a lot through the session and ended up 14th. The second session moved me up to 13th but I struggled for grip in general. I had the first two sectors pretty well hooked up but was struggling and losing all my time at the last corner. For the final session of the day we used a set of new race tires to enable us to have them in a prime zone for the qualifying session on Saturday. My times got quicker and quicker over the course of the session and I felt quicker and quicker every lap.
Saturday morning's free practice session was wet once again and I struggled for pace once more. I think this was partly down to the car not being set-up correctly which was my fault and also due to me not getting a lap together. Either way my times were way off, but that session wasn't really to important, the next one was, qualifying.
I knew that I needed a good position on the grid so I could battle properly at the front in the races. A lap didn't materialise and it took me till the very last lap to get really quick. I got the first two sectors near perfect and was on for a good lap. At the last corner I tried to make up more time and as I let the brakes off my corner entry speed was too high. When I turned in the car started to over steer and I lost about 5 tenths. I know that the lap was worth 6th on the grid if not higher so I was gutted to come away with 11th and 12th positions for the races.
The first race started well, I didn't lose any places in the first few corners then got on the back of Myles Collins quickly. Eager to make up the difference to the front quickly I had a look up the inside into Clark, and then pulled back to the outside. When I turned in I got a massive slide and I had to use the gravel on the exit to recover. Unfortunately I fell back to 14th. I passed Declan Jones on lap 4, then Ollie Chadwick on lap 5. A few laps later and I was with Myles Collins and I got the switch back exiting the hairpin to move through. I then pulled a gap on those I had passed then I tried to catch Jake Giddings, Brad Bailey and Tom Howard who were battling hard ahead. Contact occurred and 'Giddy' hit the tires hard bringing out the safety car. Tom then pulled into the pits with damage so I moved up another place. On the restart I was unable to pass Brad, everyone defended so much and everyone's lap times slowed dramatically. I was behind Brad going into the hairpin on the last lap and I went into the middle of the track. I was trying to defend from Myles and attack Brad. My aim of getting the switchback didn't work because Myles jammed it up the inside at the last corner. I was annoyed because it was my own fault I lost the place, to be fair to Myles it was a great move.
Reflecting on the first race I knew I had to defend harder in the final corner if someone was behind. I also knew that I couldn't afford to crash on the opening lap either, and also I knew I didn't want to finish where I had in the first.
In the second race I had a similar start and once again didn't lose any places. On the second lap I passed Will Foster and moved into the top ten. On the next lap I was defending on the white line going into the last corner. Will, somehow got on the inside of me, he must have been on the gravel or grass. He was right up on the kerb as he passed me. I got him back coming out of the corner but Declan and Ollie got me too. On the way into the first corner I was on the inside of the two. Declan braked latest as my door was cut off. I backed out and tagged Ollie on the way down Duffers Dip and that put me into a spin. I got back going as quick as possible and after three laps of chasing the safety car came out and Tom Howard took a drive through coming out behind me. On the restart he hit me going into turn three and moved me onto the gravel. I lost a position and a lot of time. I then chased the pack down again and got on the inside of Declan and Ollie on the exit to the hairpin; they both moved across and forced me onto the grass. I then drove it home benefitting from Brad Bailey's spin, Tom crashing out, Sennan Fielding coming off and Ollie spinning at the last corner on the last lap crossing the line 8th.
The weekend has moved me up to 5th in the championship. We now move onto Rockingham in Northamptonshire, it was a circuit I really enjoyed last year and got my first top 15 finish in the Ginetta's. I am really looking forward to racing at what is an extraordinary circuit. I went well there last year so I am hoping to the same this time.
Hopefully see you there and if not you'll be able to read my blog after.
Until then all the best,